MINNEAPOLIS -- In an unusual place, at an unusual time, and under unusual circumstances, the Pillager Huskies came out, as usual, on top.
The Huskies persevered after an opening-drive fumble and a multitude of penalties to defeat the Osakis Silverstreaks 34-26 in the Class 1A state semifinal football game Saturday at the Metrodome to advance to the state final Friday at the Metrodome against McLeod West.
The Huskies continually shot themselves in the foot, but as quickly as they hurt themselves, they healed even quicker.
Jeff Pace fumbled on Pillager's second play from scrimmage, but instead of playing the goat, Pace was a hero.
So was fullback Steve Bethel who gained 98 of his 179 yards in the fourth quarter to give Pillager its first berth in the state finals.
"It feels like we're finally achieving a goal that I said to my mom that we were going to do," said Steve Bethel, whose mother died this fall, but before she died, he and his brother Robert promised her they would win the state championship.
It didn't come easy Saturday, as Pillager fumbled twice and was penalized seven times for 66 yards, a common occurrence for the Huskies the last three games.
"We went into practice saying that we couldn't have any turnovers," said Steve Bethel. "We worked on turnovers all week, and we came out and made those penalties, but we just had to keep our heads up and in the game."
After Pace's first-quarter fumble, Osakis rammed it down Pillager's throat with its powerful fullback Shane Schlosser, who pounded his way 32 yards for the first score.
Pillager answered with a 10-play, 96-yard drive, capped by a Pace 4-yard scoring run.
The Silverstreaks kept giving Pillager a taste of its own medicine as they kept pounding away with Schlosser, who scored again to finish off the first quarter with Pillager trailing 12-8.
"We were too fired up to play," said Pillager head coach Pete Bothun. "We were too excited. We just needed to settle down and mellow out."
Schlosser finished with 120 yards rushing, 77 in the first half.
In the second quarter, Pillager kept Osakis out of the end zone before Huskies quarterback Lee Roberts fired a bullet to receiver Adam Brown for a 19-yard touchdown pass and a 16-12 Pillager halftime lead.
"I believe the Bertha-Hewitt game helped us," Steve Bethel said about the Section 6 final where Pillager rallied from a 12-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win. "We went into the locker room at halftime saying we could overcome anything. We overcame a tough BBertha team and we could do anything if we did that."
It didn't look that way early in the third quarter. Osakis came storming back to take the lead thanks to Schlosser's third touchdown.
The Silverstreaks took a 26-14 lead with 3:10 left in the third on a 6-yard touchdown run by quarterback Brian Larson.
"We knew we were fine," said Bothun. "The kids just had to settle down and once they did that we knew we were fine. We didn't make any adjustments at halftime, we were just shooting ourselves in the foot."
Pillager was better than fine as it proved unstoppable after Osakis' final two scores.
Starting from its 34, Pillager quickly ran down the field close enough for Tony Mason to break into the end zone with an 11-yard TD run to bring Pillager within 26-22 after three quarters.
Thanks to the pounding of Steve Bethel, and the explosiveness of Pace, Pillager owned the fourth quarter. Steve Bethel scored from a yard out and Pace added 52-yard dash to redeem himself.
"There was nothing but open space. It was just beautiful," Pace said about his touchdown run. "The lineman were everything for us. I'm just relieved."
Pace finished with 118 yards rushing.
"I was feeling terrible for myself," Pace said about his fumble. "I was down. Then I just told myself to forget it and move on. It was in the first few minutes of the game. I told myself I could make it up. I just stepped up and tried a little harder."
Osakis 12 0 14 0 -- 26
Pillager 8 8 6 12 -- 34
O-Shane Schlosser 32 run (kick blocked) 10:52
P-Jeff Pace 4 run (Steve Bethel run) 7:12
O-Schlosser 1 run (kick failed) 3:59
P-Adam Brown 4 pass from Lee Roberts (Pace run) 8:03
O-Schlosser 2 run (Schlosser run) 6:49
O-Brian Larson 6 run (kick failed) 3:10
P-Tony Mason 11 run (run failed) 1:02
P-Steve Bethel 1 run (run failed) 9:27
P-Pace 52 run (run failed) 6:15
First downs - P 20, O 15
Rushing att-yds- P 49-428, O 46-155
Pass att-comp-int-yds - P 3-6-0-67, O 5-10-2-124
Total offense - P 55-495, O 279
Fumbles 6-2, O 0-0
Penalties 7-66, O 3-25
Rushing -- P, Steve Bethel 26-179, Jeff Pace 8-118, Tony Mason 4-41, Adam Brown 1-32, Robert Bethel 4-31, Steve Szczdrowski 4-27, Lee Roberts 2-(-11). O, Shane Schlosser 17-125;
Passing -- P, Roberts 3-6-67. O, Brian Larson 5-9-1-113;
Receiving -- Brown 3-67. O, Billy Quistorff 2-62;
Record -- Pillager 11-1. Next Game -- Pillager vs. McLeod West at Metrodome for Class 1A state championship, 11 a.m. Nov. 23.
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